With Eyes Unclouded – Into The Wild

27 Feb

With Eyes Unclouded

One result of being unemployed for so long and unable to pay the rent is that I don’t spend money to go see movies. I’m woefully behind on the recent (and even not so recent) releases. This does however result in more time to catch up on titles that I do have access to, either on DVD or waiting on the DVR or downloaded or on VHS from when we cleaned out someone’s basement, etc.

Watching movies knowing already how time has treated them is an interesting experience. Sometimes I find myself wondering why a film isn’t far more popular, or why a famous classic isn’t languishing in obscurity. With that mindset, I welcome you to the first “With Eyes Unclouded” which will hopefully be an ongoing series for discovering (or perhaps avoiding) new movies that aren’t new.

Starting with Into The Wild.

I’ve been eager to see this movie ever since being fascinated by the book, but now that I have, I’m left feeling somewhat wanting.

The book, for those unfamiliar, chronicles the true story of Chris McCandless. The book is also about Jon Krakaur’s (the author) interest in Chris’ story, his own adventure in discovering the story, and his own self-exploration about why the story is so fascinating to him. He even researches stories similar to Chris’ about others who run off “into the wild,” to see if they evoke similar reactions in him. All in all it’s a fascinating book about humanity’s desire for something more, some evasive adventure, some passion, joy, experience, some thing that is always somehow just out of reach.

That’s what it was about for me anyway.

The movie, as I suspected, isn’t about Jon Krakaur at all, and follows just Chris’ story instead. The movie shows us Chris, follows him on his adventure and lets us into his head as much as cinema, structured this way, will allow. Given that, it’s really a great cinematic telling of the story. The music, the scenery, the performances, the editing, it’s all high quality. It evokes a mood of its own, and viewing it is an experience unique unto itself.

And yet…

The underlying approach to the story that the movie takes is, I think, the wrong one. The book is all about this man, the journalist author, trying to figure out after the fact who Chris was. Chris left a lot of writings behind him, and Jon eagerly analyzes them, hoping each time that some overlooked clue will provide the answer, hoping the next sentence will be the ‘rosebud‘ to the true self of Chris McCandless. Some of this writing (“if we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, the possibility of human life is destroyed”) makes it into the movie, but mostly just as lines of dialogue, or as voiceover. It’s not given the same reverence (reverence which is often questioned) as it is in the book because the structure doesn’t allow for it. The author of the movie has no voice. Why did Chris do what he did? Why did a college graduate leave his car behind, burn all his money and walk away to wherever he went? What happened to him? How did he end up in the wilds of Alaska? Why is Jon so driven to find out?

The movie leaves these questions out, instead asking why is Chris leaving his car behind and burning his money? What will happen to him? Where is he going? What is he doing?While still compelling questions, I didn’t find them as compelling as those in the book, and I think that the answers given by the movie were too simple and too abrupt. It wasn’t just that Chris went from writing down his “firm belief that the primary joy in life doesn’t come from human relationships” to finding that, maybe, it does. It wasn’t just that he had a not-totally-healthy upbringing. It wasn’t just that he didn’t read the right passage in his edible plants book.

There was a lot more complexity to him, and to his story (particularly the ending), that is lost in the movie. Ultimately after watching I was left missing that complexity more than I was left appreciating what I’d seen. As cliché as it is to say it, I’d recommend the book over the movie. Perhaps though, if you’d like to enjoy the movie, do so without having read the book first.

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